Given the fact that I’m not quiet about my childhood and that I even wrote a book detailing the adverse childhood experiences I went through, a book in which I discuss the abuse inflicted throughout my childhood at the hands of my Daddy, some may be surprised that this week still makes me sad. Some may be surprised to read that I still miss my Daddy, often, especially this week. This Friday, February 9th...20 years ago…I can’t even believe it’s been that long….my Daddy made his final decision in life…and he killed himself on that sad, cold, lonely day.
As often happens this anniversary week...I’ve been thinking about Daddy more than usual. And it got me thinking about that ugly day, and also the immense, intense, confusing, and often horrible feelings that accompany a death by suicide.
And so below, you will find an excerpt from my book, and some of my feelings, many I’m feeling today. I don’t pretend that I embody what all survivor’s of suicide experience. But it’s a glimpse into how it affected me. And my hope is it may help someone else today who is grieving a loss.
My point in sharing, as almost always is the case in sharing my personal stories…you are not alone! And a sad moment, or a sad day, doesn’t have to equal a sad life. Thank you for reading and sharing my thoughts, today, and every day I share.
Writing this book, and looking more closely at all my feelings about Daddy’s suicide, this possibility occurred to me: Maybe we survivors of a loved one’s suicide actually need to feel the guilt, maybe we need to feel like somehow we played a part in their choosing to leave us, because then at least we know we entered their minds. In some way, their decision to leave us hurts a little bit less, if we believe it was because of us. That way we can feel like they gave us a second thought before ending it all and abandoning us. But really, what do I know–my degree is in English, remember?
In any event–just in case you didn’t notice the first two or three times I said it!–I want to be very clear that we must not blame ourselves when someone we love takes their own life. I’m trying to be honest here about my own experience, about the burden of guilt I carry, so that other readers who feel the same kinds of things might see that they’re not alone in those painful feelings. Acknowledging and examining those feelings of guilt and responsibility is an important step in healing. But we have to be careful not to believe them. If my Daddy’s guilty feelings about abusing me made him hate himself more–that is not my fault, however much I have worried that it is, over the years. In my rational mind, I know I am not to blame. But I can still get caught up in the guilt, and I still have to remind myself that I did not cause him to kill himself. I hope any of you who have lost someone to suicide will also remind yourselves of that, whenever the dark thoughts come.
You know what doesn’t help? The way some people react when you tell them that someone you love has died by suicide. They’ll get this weird expression on their faces, a mixture of horror and something like accusation–as if you yourself did or didn’t do something crucial that caused your father to take his own life. I’m sure they don’t mean it, and I’m sure most people aren’t even aware they’re acting so awkwardly. But it almost seems like they’re afraid of suicide, and of you–like being near you now, they might be tempted to kill themselves too; like I have some magic power that causes people to vanish–which, in some of my lower moments, I sometimes kind of think I do. After all, how many people are abandoned by both their parents and their step-parent? Once in a while when I’m in a certain frame of mind, I think, “Maybe it is me…maybe those people are right to look at me like that!” It’s strange, the power of that kind of thinking, even after all these years, and everything I’ve done to try to heal myself, and the work I do to help other people. It takes vigilance not to buy into those thoughts.
I’ve received more condolence cards and calls when my cats and dogs have died than I did when Daddy died. Some friends never acknowledged it at all, which was so disconcerting, and hurtful. It only adds to the pain and confusion that comes when someone you love dies by suicide. If you take nothing else away from this book, at least take this: If you know someone whose life is affected by suicide, do me a favor and do not ignore the fact that someone they love has died. Grieve with and for them like friends do, and don’t treat them like a freak because of their loved one’s final decision.
And in memory of my Daddy I want to include one more excerpt, this is how my memoir begins:
Daddy isn’t here to read this story today. He can’t give his account, or counter all the negative with all that he did right. And so I will do it for him. Number one, he stuck around when my “mom” didn’t and he stayed long enough to teach my sister and me a lot of good qualities. He often told me he loved me—”I love you, Jes-SEE-ka,” that’s how he said my name. He made sure we always lived in a safe, beautiful home, in a safe, beautiful neighborhood. We were never once hungry and we were always clean and well dressed. Daddy ensured that my sister and I got college educations. He taught us to be empathetic and giving. He taught us to always use good manners. He passed along an immense love for animals—we always had pets, usually cats. Our first cat, gray and fluffy and sweet, was named Mouse. I have had cats pretty much ever since. Daddy taught us to be strong in the face of adversity, even when that adversity came at his hand. He did a lot of things wrong, but Daddy also did a lot for my sister and me, and for what he gave us, both the good and the bad, I will be forever grateful.
It took me a long time to forgive my father, but for the most part, I have. And while that has been one of the most difficult things I’ve done, it’s also, really, been the most important, because it’s allowed me to move past my terrible childhood and forward into my life today. I suppose a big part of forgiveness is understanding: If we can understand where someone comes from—the hardships they’ve endured, the pain they carry—then we can imagine why they might have gone on to inflict pain on other people. It’s so often cyclical. That doesn’t make it okay by any means. But it makes it possible to comprehend, which is the beginning of forgiveness.
If you or someone you know is struggling, please call for help, there are people out there who care about you and you are loved.